September round-up: The good, the bad and the disastrous

Firstly, apologies for the looooong delay between posts, it’s irresponsible and unfair to you the reader…but then you knew the risks involved, reading a blog by a full-time mum didn’t you?

The toddler is now in full walking mode so eating out has been kerbed (well sort of) in order to further child proof the house – this means making it into a giant playroom and getting rid of furniture we painstakingly chose, as well as safe guarding our beloved fine bone china.

There was also a trip to Puglia, Italy. It was both beautiful and fun, except the easyJet bit (bastards!). To summarise, the sun shone brightly, plenty of wine and gin fizz was consumed and the Puglian cuisine was a delight. This is what it looked like in a nutshell…

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Mummy lunching at Acciuga

Before I took off for Puglia, a good friend and I, together with our little ones, made a well-timed visit to a rather refreshing restaurant nestled in the middle of Kensington / Earls Court, called Acciuga. Well-timed, because in the weeks prior we’d read glowing reviews from the Evening Standard and Independent and were sure we were in for a treat.

The name, which I’ve heard pronounced at least half a dozen ways, means anchovy. Unsurprisingly these are included on the menu, such as a dish of wonderfully made Paccheri with salted anchovies. A pretty plate of food which thankfully blended the salty little beings into a beautifully creamy and yet tangy tomato sauce.

The chef, Guglielmo Arnulfo, apparently only 24 years old and an ex lawyer and rugby player, has brought the Ligurian cuisine of North Italy to life in this little Kensington eaterie. Everything is fresh and simply done, from the linen on the tables to the dishes that sit on it, like the crispy courgette flowers filled with smoky cheese and the garlic pesto tagliolini.

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Despite a slow start where we were left for some time without our menus, our waiter made every effort to ensure our comfort (in spite of the language barrier that so vividly reminded me of Manuel from Fawlty towers), and that of my feisty little toddler*, who insisted on adding colour to our ice white linen with her sweetcorn painted fingers.

Frankly, as mummy lunching goes, it was one of the most enjoyable outings I’ve had, oddly relaxing too thanks to the friendly service. And if it’s good enough for the goddess of food critique, Fay Maschler, it’s good enough for me. A great place to sip on a nice sparkling dry rose and tuck into some simple, fresh and uncomplicated cooking.

*Speaking of the toddler. My only gripe was that whilst they thankfully they had plenty of highchairs and made plenty of space for our buggies, there was no baby changing facility. Grr…a topic definitely up for further exploration soon.

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Seafood tasting menu at Cinnamon Club

I also met up with another good friend for a much needed girlie catch up over dinner. The venue - Cinnamon Club. I’d been here a few times but it had been years since my last visit. And with chef Vivek Singh’s continual high praise, it seemed a no brainer when my friend suggested it. This is not one of those restaurants you walk in and never quite know how the night will end. This is a restaurant that delivers. You know it as soon as you walk in and see all the waiters doing their finely tuned dance around the tables.

It was at that moment I remembered what I liked so much about Cinnamon Club. It’s professional, refined and a world away from your high st Indian. Food is beautifully balanced, fragranced and skillfully cooked.

We decided to go with the seafood tasting menu, a nod to the home region of one of the sous chefs in the kitchen. We were not disappointed I can tell you that. An amuse bouche lending itself to the street food of India (chaat) was neatly followed by the first course: crab salad with pineapple rasam. Delicate, just the right amount of sweetness and balanced with tangy tomato and pineapple.

Skate wing served with sautéed onion and pickled veg was divine. Succulent fish, sweet onions and creamy cauliflower. We were only on dish number two and already the taste receptors on my tongue were having a ball with all the different flavour sensations. Then came cod with a spiced lentil crust. I’m not just talking a flimsy coating of batter, this was a full on crispy crunch crust, crumbling away to reveal a perfectly cooked, melt-in-the-mouth fish.

The main dish of Madras king prawns with rice and shrimp pickle was a masterpiece. Though it teetered on the edge of my personal spice scale, (as an Indian I’m a bit weak with spice, go figure!) the juicy prawns were delicious.

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The night also restored my faith in the existence of good service after a few restaurant flops in August. Looking at the unforgiving clientele though, I imagine CC has to be at the top of its game at every service. Stepping in to the vast library room that houses this great restaurant, you get a great glimpse of how the other half live. I mean the really posh half. The women in their twin sets and pearls and the off duty politicians in their ‘casual attire’ of tweed and corduroy jackets discussing Syria with their Oxbridge teenagers. It’s adorably quaint.

We ended the night on a sweet note of desserts from the a la carte menu (thank you kind waiter for that discretion). The poached pear on the set many just wasn’t going to do. However, spiced carrot cake with sorbet and a pistachio foam (which strangely all worked together well) and a chocolate pecan pudding did do us both nicely. Generous portions and sweet sticky flavours. A beautiful end to a wonderful dining experience.

What are you waiting for, go!

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Babylon at Kensington Roof Gardens

I’ve always found the concept of Babylon a bit 90’s. The flamingoes in the garden with a club and restaurant built in one…and frankly I’m surprised it’s still enjoying such success but I now see that’s because of its largely out of town clientele and the sky high prices for what I think is not bad nosh but not particularly refined either. I’d managed to spend seven contented years in London without feeling the need to visit but on my mothers request I finally ‘dragged my heels’ (purely an expression, I was in pumps of course) down to High St Ken.

Surprisingly, service isn’t stand off-ish despite such a setting and instead rather nice. The venue itself is a bit like a hotel dining-room but then what else can it be. There’s even a few fish tanks to boot (very 90’s…again). The menu however is not a surprise, it is quintessential ‘modern British’ a definition that is so vague it serves its purpose. But its not the dishes that I’m distracted by, its the the £ for it all.

In contrast, the wine list is a little more reasonable and contains some more daring choices like a bottle of Tokaji, Hungary at £37. Delicious, ripe and very quaffable.

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I felt a little more relaxed about the price after the first dishes; tandoori scallops and seabass ceviche came out. I’d psyched myself up for a fall but it wasn’t so bad after all, well cooked and tasty too. However, a second course of seabass with chorizo (all of four pieces) and aioli (way too garlicky), and (over-dry) lamb turned out to be less interesting but at least edible. What can I say really… It was what it was always going to be…an ok meal in an ok place but thankfully with good wine. That’s as much as I can say about Babylon really. What did you expect?!

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Sake No Hana with the girlfriends

‘Don’t go, you’ll be disappointed’, ‘overpriced and under serviced’. The husband said it, our friend (one half of the Sloane rangers) said it. The plentiful negative reviews said it. But I went along with my girlfriends for a night out anyway. I wasn’t being foolish. In the back of my mind, I knew there must be a valid reason why I hadn’t made the effort to visit a restaurant that’s been on my list for over half a decade. But I had a strong urge to finally close the case on this first world problem and cross Sake No Hana off my list for good. And now I have.

It all started off swish, escalators up to our table, menu with all the usual fancy ingredients, me salivating over Champagne Yuzu seabass. But it didn’t take long for the well-renounced bad service to start sticking out like a sore thumb.

It took 20 mins before our wine came to the table ( and that too after mentioning it) but our first dish had been delivered.

A long wait for our last dish meant that we’d filled up on almost everything else.

A strict two hour turnover – this I can forgive as it’s not like we weren’t told on the phone, email confirmation and again when I sat down at the table (oh so welcoming!), but it’s been a while since I’ve actually experienced it in force, so still a little grating.

Then the move to no-mans-land; desserts in the bar (if you’ve read my Joel Rubouchon review on the restaurant reviews page, you’ll know this can only end one way!). Where it’s rather unclear whether its waiter service or order at the bar. This means that the couple who came after you, annoyingly get served first.

They forget you ordered water for the table, twice.

A hot beverage is forgotten so that my girlfriend is left without her drink while we knock back ours.

A further 20 mins to flag a waiter down for the bill and then another wait for the card machine.

I think you’re getting the picture. The fact that it’s owned by Hakkasan, a place where I have dined at on several occasions without complaint, makes this all rather more puzzling. Of course we decide not to include the 13% service they’ve the gall to add but I decide we let the waiter figure that out for himself. He didn’t, at least not until we were almost out the door at which point he came running and we told him it was an embarrassment and reeled off our list of woes. To which he immediately backed off, a little too quickly. As if this happens often.

In between this shambles, Sake No Hana did get something right. The food. It was as we had expected. Pretty good but severely overpriced. No real complaints on quality, except for a little too much fat on the Sumiyaki beef. My Champagne Yuzu seabass was just as I had imagined (having had a similar dish at Hakkasan) sweet sticky and oh so rich. Lobster tempura was succulent and juicy with a crisp coating and the seabass ceviche with chilli ponzu dressing was lip-smackingly tangy. It is a shame then that a poor show from front of house let the kitchen down in such a dramatically unnecessary way.

So in conclusion, if you are thinking about going to Sake No Hana, don’t. Go to Hakkasan instead. Case closed.

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Sake No Hana photos courtesy of the ever helpful and camera savvy @MyDailyDose8

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